Book Reviews

Review: “Illuminate,” Aimee Agresti

April 2, 2012

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: “Illuminate,” Aimee AgrestiIlluminateby Aimee Agresti
Series: Gilded Wings #1
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on March, 2012
Genres: Angels & Demons, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 531
Source: Netgalley

Haven Terra is a brainy, shy high school outcast. But everything begins to change when she turns sixteen. Along with her best friend Dante and their quiet and brilliant classmate Lance, she is awarded a prestigious internship in the big city— Chicago— and is sent to live and work at a swanky and stylish hotel under the watchful eyes of a group of gorgeous and shockingly young-looking strangers: powerful and alluring hotel owner Aurelia Brown; her second-in-command, the dashing Lucian Grove; and their stunning but aloof staff of glamazons called The Outfit.

As Haven begins falling for Lucian, she discovers that these beautiful people are not quite what they seem. With the help of a mysterious book, she uncovers a network of secret passageways from the hotel’s jazz-age past that leads her to the heart of the evil agenda of Aurelia and company: they’re in the business of buying souls. Will they succeed in wooing Haven to join them in their recruitment efforts, or will she be able to thwart this devilish set’s plans to take the souls of her classmates on prom night at the hotel?

Drawn in by the stunning cover and unique premise, I picked up Illuminate as soon as there was a reading slot free on my e-reader, thanks to the lovely people in the publishing department for the book and Netgalley. Unfortunately the book took me many weeks to finish, mainly because it was so lengthy and I couldn’t find myself as drawn into Haven’s world as I wanted to be.

This book was part of my 2012 Debut Author Challenge
The main drawback for this book for me was the length. At over 500-pages, I felt that Illuminate was too clunky to really hold my interest. There were loads of scenes and pieces of dialogue that could’ve been scrapped in the final draft to make the book more engaging and flowy; such as the scenes of Haven unpacking with Dante, etc. I felt they didn’t add any ‘weight’ to the book, and as soon as my interest was piqued, a slow, uncessary scene would pop up and dull my reading splurge.

I found myself having to muster the energy and patience to pick up Illuminate. I was previously on a reading-high until I picked this one up, sadly. While the ideas behind the book were fresh and unique, there just wasn’t enough suspense sprinkled evenly throughout the story to keep me entertained. I didnt find myself clinging to Haven as a narrator and there was no love story to speak of (well, unless you call the interactions between her and Lucian) until the very last pages.

I wish that more of the historical concepts behind the Lexington Hotel had played a bigger role in the book, too. I liked hearing about the hotel’s history with Al Capone, the secret passageways, etc. and I first went into the book thinking that our cast of characters would somehow be interacting with the past. What we get instead was a lot of ‘work life’ to do with the hotel, which quite honestly bored me throughout most of the novel.

There was an ‘angel’ aspect throughout the book that’s hinted quite early on, but doesn’t actually come into play until the final chapters. I was hoping for some new take on angel mythology, but Illuminate doesn’t offer anything more just yet – it’s all still shrouded in mystery. I also felt that the characters themselves were rather cardboard-like, with the token gay best friend and unsure heroine. I came to quite appreciate Lance toward the end, but for a good part of the book he felt rather hollow and ghostlike in regards to his personality. Haven’s parental figure problems and all that side-story of the hospital and her checking in seemed to throw me off the story, too. It was another piece of the book I felt could have been cut altogether.

All in all, it was just an ‘okay’ book, and sadly offered nothing special for me personally as a reader. From what I can gather from the ending, there are more books to come, but I won’t be reading them. After a 500-page haul of trying to overthrow Aurelia and the Outfit, I’m not sure I can go through it again. After all, we learn in the last few pages that Illuminate was just ‘the first test’ for Haven and friends.

Recommended to: I’m sure a lot of readers out there will love Illuminate, however it just wasn’t the book for me. If you’re willing to invest in a 500-page read, by all means check it out. However if you feel that it’s not to your tastes early on, as I did, maybe listen to your instincts.

About Aimee Agresti

Aimee Agresti is an entertainment journalist with ten years of experience writing, editing, and chatting up celebrities. A former staff writer for Us Weekly magazine, she has interviewed everyone from Angelina Jolie and George Clooney to the stars of The Hills, and even penned the magazine's coffee table book Inside Hollywood. She lives in Washington, DC.


  • Reply Erin W April 2, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    I love lengthy reads but some books are too long for their own good. This sounds like one of them but I’m still willing to give it ago despite the mixed reviews. Great and honest review!

  • Reply Steph April 2, 2012 at 6:53 am

    Ack, I usually love lengthy reads, but it doesn’t sound like this one has enough of a hold for me to give it a go. What a shame; the cover really is pretty!

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